Monsoon melodies

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by Tajnim Imami

photos by Nasira Mansoor

Monsoon is the season that breathes life into the scorched earth after the long blazing summer. After the delicious mango- jackfruit- berry season, Mother Nature slowly begins to rejuvenate herself, sometimes with a downpour and sometimes a drizzle but always glowing with verdant exuberance. Monsoon arrives with its singsong patter of relief as the green turns greener and the ground exudes petrichor- the wonderful musty smell of earth after a rainfall. As frogs begin to croak and quiet snails make their journey across the soft, green foliage, rain falls non- stop for days. The seasons of a country is saturated with its culture and its people’s happiness. Monsoon is the season that heralds the advent of its own bounties of nature. In fact, rain has always been the key to joy for the farmers of this agrarian country. Just the right amount of rain and there is no worries for harvest. But too little rainfall can often leave the fields dry and wanting, resulting into droughts and food shortage. Due to these reasons, monsoon features heavily in both folklore and literature. ‘Allah megh de/ Pani de/ Chaya dere, Allah/ Tui megh de’ is the most ubiquitous rural song about the yearning for monsoon rain. Rain fills the tired overheated earth with life as it slowly washes away the sweltering heat of the summer and enlivens the water bodies filing them up to the brim. As fish scuttle across the river playing hide and seek and finally getting caught into the fishing net of the ever so patient fishermen, monsoon becomes alive.

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The sound of rain on tin roof is the quintessential Bengali experience. Azily lounging in bed under your favourite blanket is not an act exclusive to winter. ‘Kanthamuri die shue thaka’ is resurrected again as the raindrops knock against the window pane leaving little drops of reflections. Hangouts are dominated by the clouds of smoke rising from a hot cup of tea against the backdrop of sheets of rain just outside the glass window or the tin shed tea tong. The spicy, tangy potato filling of crunchy shingara or samosa never taste as yummy as it does on a rainy evening of monsoon. Even the hot, zingy jhalmuri is not forgotten at the table. A warm bowl of vegetable or chicken soup somehow acquires a more flavorful taste on a rainy day. However, it is the humble khichuri that is the order of the day on a rain soaked afternoon. Best served with chicken curry, khichuri- a mix of lentil, rice and potato- captures the cozy warmth that we seek when the air is cool and the blanket is a must. Nevertheless, even among all these zesty experiences of monsoon, there is one classic gastronomical delight of the season that cannot be rivaled by any other. Hilsa fish, the silver prize of the blue landscape of the Padma river, is the gift of monsoon and integral to Bengali culture. Ilish bhapa (steamed hilsa), shorshe ilish (hilsa in mustard gravy ), holud, kancha morich and jira with jhol of ilish (a thin gravy of hilsa with turmeric and green chillies), or just the good old fried hilsa can give the taste buds an abundance of flavor that can go with rice, polao or even khichuri when you are cooped up at home or braving the weather to reach your favorite hotel. Yet, there are those who feel the call of the wild when the sky rumbles and rain pours like there is no tomorrow. Such souls are hard to keep at home once the season begins its show. They either jump out with a football at their feet or they simply dance along with the rhythm of the rain. Beaming with boundless joy, sliding and splashing about on the roof or in the courtyard, or playing a muddy football match with friends are exactly how some people enjoy the season. Rain cannot discourage the travelers and wanderers either, as they gear up to take a long drive or a drenched rickshaw ride to take in the beauty that is monsoon.
Monsoon is the muse of poets and bookworms alike. Burying your nose in your favorite book is an act of becoming one with nature as the white noise of the never ending rainfall creates a trance inducing atmosphere erasing all the external cacophony of life. Poets and writers jot down lines and lyrics of their flights of fancy as raindrops dance across the surface of the earth conducting its own symphony.

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The misty green veil of rain, the roars and rumbles of thunder and the heaving water bodies dominate the lyrics and ballads of the season. The many tributes to monsoon by the Kobiguru are a testament to the season’s effect on the bard’s imagination. He perfectly captured the melancholia of monsoon in ‘Aji Jhoro Jhoro Mukhoro Badoro Din-e’ with a profound sense of listlessness. ‘Megher Pore Megh Jomechhe, Badol Geche Chhuti’ is another masterpiece full of the boundless joy that pervades the minds of young and old alike as clouds gather in the horizon announcing the arrival of monsoon promising all the fun and games of the rainy days. The great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa portrayed his own fascination over the season with his poem Meghdootam serenading the splendor of monsoon. In the poem, the journey of clouds over the hills and rivers carrying messages for the mythical Yaksha from his beloved is a tale of love crossing the distance against all odds. The exquisite mix of spiritual romanticism of the season painted by the poet stirred the thoughts poets centuries later as Tagore reminisced of Meghdootam in his lyrics ‘Bohu Juger Opar Hote Ashadh Elo, Elo Amar Mone, Kon Shey Kobi’r Chhando Baje, Jhoro Jhoro Borishane.’

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This love affair is heightened by the fragrant flowers that crown the season with their beauty. Kodom or bur flower, the unofficial symbol of monsoon, blooms its white speckled golden bulb and embraces the rain. The ruby red and pristine white of hibiscus is another gem of this season. Krishnachura, with its vermillion shade welcomes the refreshing season of monsoon after persisting through the months of spring and summer. Monsoon cassia flowers become the epitome of perfections as the little drops of gold sprinkled with monsoon showers sway lazily in the cool breeze. The heady aroma of jasmine wafting through the night air is another magical moment of monsoon. However, the majestic lotus and water lily may take the throne of the most gorgeous floral renditions of the season. Calmly floating on water, the flared out petals are the stars of legends and myths. In monsoon, they flaunt little crystal raindrops on their velvety surface as children play about their water kingdom.
The season of monsoon can be as destructive as it is beautiful. Every year, tornadoes and hurricanes lay waste to the coastlines of Bangladesh during this season. The heaving sea becomes a sleeping giant that could pounce at any moment. Recurring floods claim lands and lives. The serene hill tracts become treacherous with deadly landslides. Bad drainage system causes rain to flood roads and neighborhoods, wreaking havoc in daily life. But despite all these challenges, Bangladesh keeps its wheels turning against the assault of nature and keeps moving forward carrying the weight of loss.

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Monsoon has faces of both endearment and ferocity. Bangladesh awaits the season with an eagerness to release it from the oppressive heat and return the earth to its lush green beauty. It’s that time of the year when poets pour their hearts and minds into fusing words together, painters go wild with their pigments and palettes and the bottomless cups of tea become witness to stories of love, heartbreak, and all things in between. The romance of the earth and rain spreads its aroma in the air as nature wakes up, replenished with beauty bestowed upon it by monsoon. Light disperses through the little droplets of water in the air creating the miracle of rainbow reminding us of all the colors of life with celebration and wonder.

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